Hispanics and the future of the church

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As the nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15, the church has much to celebrate. Historically, the Spaniards evangelized much of what is now the United States, extending in a great arc from St. Augustine in Florida, where the first Mass was celebrated in 1565, to the San Juan straits in what is now Washington state.

Alone among major Christian denominations in the U.S., the Catholic Church continues to grow and most of that increase is Hispanic or Latino. If they’re not yet the majority of Catholics in the nation, Latinos soon will be.

According to recent figures, the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the most populous in the nation with 5 million Catholics, is 70 percent Hispanic. In many others, stretching from the Southwest to Florida, Latinos also are already the majority. Population growth is not the only cause. In good times and bad, they remain faithful.

Today that can be said of the nation as a whole, even Alaska and Hawaii. And it is certainly true in the Catholic Church.

As to their potential, late Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes wrote that Hispanics in the U.S. are uniquely qualified by their diversity to help resolve the universal question of how to deal with the “other” at a time of global interdependence.